Metro Vancouver Transit Police say they're open to changing how they deal with undocumented people who might be at risk of deportation.
“We’ve indicated that we would be more than willing to sit at the table and discuss this situation and listen to both sides of the issue,” said Anne Drennan, a spokesperson for the regional law-enforcement agency.
Drennan noted that Transit Police are aware that the City of Vancouver is working on a so-called “sanctuary city” policy. She said they will be happy to participate in related deliberations.
“We understand that a meeting or more than one meeting was held in Vancouver, which Vancouver police attended,” Drennan continued. “We’re more than willing to sit down and discuss this.”
Drennan spoke to the Straight shortly after the publication of a report by the Tyee that explores the risks undocumented immigrants face engaging in the mundane task of riding public transit.
In 2013, Transit Police reported 328 incidents to the Canada Border Services Agency—one nearly every day of the year, it’s reported there. Those calls resulted in 62 investigations.
At least one of those cases led to a death. In December 2013, Lucia Vega Jiménez committed suicide while in CBSA custody after Transit Police arrested her for a minor fare-evasion offence.
Drennan defended officers’ tactics. She emphasized that 328 referrals to CBSA is not a lot, considering that in 2013 authorities stopped 25,000 people for fare-evasion checks.
She also noted that CBSA is not a Transit Police officer’s first call for assistance.
“Typically, we can figure out who the person is on our own,” Drennan said. “And if all of that fails, then the next tool, I guess, is being able to call CBSA to see if they might have information regarding the person. It is the next database down the line.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs argued it’s better to bring undocumented immigrants into the system in ways that don’t penalize them so severely.
“To go from ticket violation to turning over to the CBSA, that’s a big jump and something that causes a lot of concern,” he told the Straight. “I think it is disproportionate. There are a lot of reasons why people wind up here without documents, and it can be very understandable.”
Meggs suggested that revelations of the close relationship between Transit Police and CBSA underscore the need for a defined set of sanctuary policies that allow undocumented residents to access social services without fear of deportation.
However, Meggs noted that such a framework won’t come overnight.
“I don’t think that there will be an immediate deceleration or anything done before the [November] election,” he said. “But I personally feel it is an area that we should proceed in.”